Aiden McGeady inspired by confidence of new manager
Spartak winger says belief the key to raising game and achieving greater consistency
Aiden McGeady has had a boost from the arrival of Martin O’Neill as manager
Martin O’Neill is hoping he can add to the current pool of Irish talent between now and the friendly against Serbia in March. But at least as important to his chances of success when next year’s qualifiers come around will be his ability to get more out of ones he has inherited, with Aiden McGeady’s improved performances over the past week providing early evidence of the basis for the manager’s reputation as a skilled motivator.
Giovanni Trapattoni routinely lamented the fact that McGeady’s game lacked the sort of punch that might reasonably have been expected from someone possessing his talent. While the Spartak Moscow winger created more goals than any of his team-mates during the last campaign he rarely threatened the goal himself, scoring just twice for the Italian.
Under O’Neill so far, he has looked re-energised with, following his goal against Latvia, his first-half performance in Poznan amongst his very best in an Ireland jersey. Going forward, he looked confident and composed on Tuesday, varying his game so as to keep opponents on their toes. His set pieces were also key to the team’s best chances but he contributed a good deal too on the defensive side of things, closing down opponents well and winning possession in promising positions more than once. Being reunited his old Celtic boss and working with Roy Keane, he admits, has probably been a factor.
“They’ve probably given me a little bit more of a boost because they obviously do have belief in me,” says the 27-year-old who, O’Neill seemed to suggest last week, might have been expected to have made a bigger splash in the game by this stage in his career. “But I wouldn’t take anything away from Trapattoni, he probably felt the same. He probably just wasn’t as vocal about it.”
O’Neill’s approach, he says, has changed a little since they worked together in Scotland but the 61-year-old’s arrival has had an inevitable effect, not just on him, but every member of a squad that was at something of a low ebb after failing, by a bit of a distance, to qualify for the next summer’s World Cup.
“He’s probably a little more hands on than he used to be,” he says of the new manager, “he talks a little bit more than before. I was only just coming through when he was in the last year of his stint at Celtic but he’s probably a little bit more hands on.
“I think there’s a bit of freshness there too, obviously almost everyone’s place is up for grabs and everyone wants to prove themselves to the new management.”
O’Neill has options out wide and yet it is hard to imagine that McGeady’s position would be all that vulnerable if he can produce his best for Ireland with a little more consistency. The manager is, in any case, asking him to play to his strengths, something that also provided a boost to the midfielder. The idea, he says, is to mix things up a bit, to get involved as much as possible and either get to the line and cross or come inside and get more centrally involved in the midfield.
“Yeah, he likes his wingers to get the ball and be positive with it and try to go past the full-back,” he says before mentioning the need to cut inside too. “Well, that’s kind of the way I play for Spartak, so it’s probably just a habit. The way we’re playing now, I probably can do that and get a little more of the ball rather than standing out on the touchline.”
We will have to wait until March, by which time he might well be playing in the Premier League, to see whether he can maintain his improved form for Ireland but McGeady feels that O’Neill has probably seen enough for the moment.
“He’s probably happy for the break himself now but he said in the dressingroom that he’s been really pleased with the way it’s gone in the last 10 days and how everybody has trained, performed and applied themselves. It’s very early days and we’ve only played two friendlies but we’ll see when the competitive games come around.”
Even happier than the manager, perhaps, is Jon Walters who described captaining the side on Tuesday night as the “proudest moment of my career to date, bar none”.
The 30-year-old only realised he would be getting the armband shortly before kick-off and says he was thrilled at the news. The honour comes after he recently played his 100th consecutive Premier League game for Stoke City, another thing that would have seemed utterly unthinkable when he was going from club to club in the lower leagues through the early part of his career.
“After being down to the lower leagues, I’ve got friends who don’t play in the game now, I’ve got friends at Chester and they’re part-time now. But you always believe in yourself and the hard work along the way helps you.
“It wasn’t not the easiest route back to the top after Blackburn and Bolton . . . I went on loan to a few places. But I think that if you put the hard work in – always doing the extra work in the gym, a couple of hours before training every day or staying behind later than anybody else – you get what you deserve in the end.”